Identifying operational failures in general practice


Whether it’s searching for a missing piece of equipment or tracking down a colleague, even short disruptions during the workday can add up to significant losses in time. And for busy general practitioners (GP), unnecessary disruptions and system defects can steal precious time that could be spent with patients.

GPs are the first healthcare contact for most people in the UK. They diagnose, monitor and manage diseases, and work to prevent illness. They are cornerstones of the NHS, and they’re under increased pressure in recent years as demand for their services increases and healthcare resources decrease. It’s important that GPs can make the best use of their limited time, and aren’t weighed down by interruptions resulting from failures in the health system.

Previous studies have shown that hospital staff lose as much as 10% of their working time to interruptions and ‘operational failures’. So what about general practice? What sort of avoidable disruptions do GPs encounter, and can these operational failures be addressed?


Our study will look at what GPs do in an average day to see what interruptions get in the way of their work, and find out which ones are caused by operational failures.

We’ll start with a systematic review of literature about the work GPs do in a day, and the time they spend resolving operational failures. Next, we’ll ask GPs about the interruptions that interfere with their daily tasks, and try to understand the nature and source of these issues. Then we’ll spend time in surgeries observing GPs to assess the number and type of operational failures they encounter and calculate the time they consume.

Once we’ve collected this data, we’ll analyse it and identify which operational failures might be fixable. We’ll host workshops with GPs, other primary care staff and patients to plan future research aimed at creating evidence-based improvement interventions.

Work on this project is expected to continue until late 2019. Check back here for updates and research findings.